On a beautiful Cinco de Mayo, Karen and I set out for our first park trip of the season, a return to Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, for the 8th annual Wooden Warrior Day. The weather was relatively warm for early May (in the 70s) and the skies were mostly sunny.
After our hour-and-a-half drive, we arrived at the park at close to 9:00. The immediately noticeable change for this season was the giant and colorful Category 5 Rapids waterslide that stood imposingly at the back of the parking lot, clearly visible from the entrance. Its construction was still being completed for the waterpark's opening later in the month.
We made our way over to the entrance to the Wooden Warrior where the registration table was usually set up. There were a few coaster enthusiasts standing around, but no one else, and no registration table. One of the enthusiasts said that this year registration was taking place in the park office. So we walked over and were cheerily greeted. After scanning our tickets and attaching our wrist bands, they gave us each a newly-designed t-shirt and a copy of the new book commemorating Quassy's 110th anniversary. I saw Ron Gustafson, Quassy's director of Public Relations, and we chatted a bit. He said attendance was down a bit this year because of a big coaster enthusiast conference that had been scheduled for the same day. That was a shame since this was one of the few Warrior events I had attended that had perfect weather.
Karen and I then headed back to the Wooden Warrior queue. Exclusive Ride Time was scheduled for 9:00, and it was already past that. More enthusiasts were arriving, but no one was entering the queue line. So I walked in and others followed. The workers were testing the ride, sending the train around empty. As we approached the station, one of the attendants removed the chain and Karen and I walked over to the front seat gate. Ron arrived with his camera. He mentioned that for this season the train was completely rehabbed, with new seats and new restraints. It looked the same, but when we sat down and pulled the unique lap bar in, we could tell the difference. The previous lap bar would lock in any position. But this one had to be pushed down till it clicked. Ron said the change was made so that the ride could securely hold younger (and smaller) passengers. While the bars were tighter, there was still enough breathing room to make it comfortable.
As we were dispatched up the lift hill, I noticed there wasn't any grease on the track. Even so, the ride seemed smooth enough. We got to the top and made the quick sharp 180-degree turn to the right. We plunged down the first drop, over the speed bump and then into the tight left-hand turn. Even though it was the first ride of the day, the coaster still packed a lot of speed. We soared over the next hill with pronounced air time. We barreled through the tunneled turnaround and then flew through the bunny hops back to the station. After eight years, the ride was still remarkably smooth.
We got back in line for another enjoyable trip as more enthusiasts joined the queue. After that I chatted with Ron for a bit. Then Karen and I walked around the peaceful park for a while, occasionally encountering other enthusiasts and having pleasant conversations. The park's classic YoYo swing ride was completely rehabbed and, along with its new lighting package, looked brand new. We walked down to the lakeside where sparkling paddleboats were docked, awaiting riders. We walked past the kiddie rides at the water's edge, including the antique Herschell helicopter ride. For the first time, I noticed that the propellers on the tails of the copters were same plastic spinners that we have hanging in our backyard. I had gotten them years ago from Mountain Park after it had closed and originally had dozens of them.
Although there was a steady breeze blowing, the sun was warming the air nicely. I went back to the Warrior and took another enjoyable ride, quite a bit faster than before. As 11:00 rolled around, the park opened to the public and more guests filled the midway. We hopped onto the park's miniature railroad and took a relaxing spin around the grove. Then we walked through the park's Sweet Shoppe. The previous season, the concession was brand new and wasn't fully stocked when we were there. But this season it looked like it was in full swing, with all sorts of candies and taffies. Next door, the Pizzeria was serving three different pies. Nearby was the park's gift shop which this season featured really nice Quassy baseball caps. So I bought one. We then took a walk through the arcade, which hadn't changed much since our last visit. The Carousel Theater was featuring a display of martial arts routines performed by children. It was amusing to watch.
By then it was time for our buffet lunch, so we headed over to the back of the Quassy Restaurant and met up with the other enthusiasts at the same location as last year. There were picnic tables set up under tents. Workers were just starting to grill hamburgs and hot dogs. I asked if they were going to have veggie burgers, and they said yes. So Karen and I sat at a picnic table and chatted with some of the other enthusiasts. Ron stopped over to announce that the food was ready. So people began lining up. In reality, the food wasn't ready so everyone stood around idly for a while. But within a few minutes, the grilled food was being served. It took a little longer for our veggie burgers to cook. There were also several other items, including really good pasta with cheese and lots of fresh condiments. It was plentiful and tasty.
Ron and I talked about the Herschell helicopters. He said they just replaced the tail propellers and didn't know what they were going to do in the future because there were none left to purchase. I mentioned that I had some at home, and would be happy to part with them if the park needed them.
As the group finshed up their meal, Ron presided over the traditional auction to benefit ACE New England. First up was a Quassy shotglass and mug. I passed on that and it went to a kid for $7. Next up was a Quassy stuffed animal and a hat, which I also passed on. That was won by the same kid for $5. Then there was a large Quassy canvas backdrop. That sold for $10. The last item was the one I wanted: an original seat cushion from the Wooden Warrior Timberliner train. I started the bidding at $20 -- and no one else made a bid. That was the easiest auction I've ever won.
After that, Ron lined us up for a group photo and then thanked us all for coming. Karen and I bid our farewells and took our booty back to the car. By that point the parking lot was nearly filled. On the way, we passed by the small roofed structure with a sign on it that read, "Ring the Quassy fun bell if you had a great day". Under the sign was a brass bell, and people were continually ringing it. As for many others, apparently, the park provided us with an enjoyable start to the coaster season.
We did make a side stop on the way home. I had heard about a really good ice cream shop near the park. It was in Oxford, Connecticut: Rich Farm Ice Cream. The shop was easy to miss from the road, up on a hill hidden behind an old farm house. Cows grazed in a pasture next door. Abutting the shop was a large barn with two tall silos. By the number of people there, it seemed to be pretty popular. A sign advertised the fact that their ice cream was made fresh daily. I ordered caramel swirl in a waffle cone, and Karen got sweet cream. The ice cream was exceptionally rich and flavorful. And the waffle cone was fresh-baked. It was a perfect way to end the day.
I'm really glad Quassy is doing well. They're proof that small parks have something to offer that people really enjoy: an inexpensive getaway to enjoy simple pleasures -- and a great roller coaster.
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